Friday, August 19, 2011

Even Oprah Makes Mistakes

I have never eaten proper Southern biscuits. Probably because I have never been south of the Mason-Dixon Line. I might not even recognize the difference between proper biscuits and improper ones. I can't think of any establishments I frequent that serve biscuits, plain or topped with gravy. Nobody I know claims to be a Biscuit Maker Extraordinaire.

Fans of Oprah gave her grief over her biscuit-making scene in "Beloved" many years ago. One woman told her flat out, "You are making your biscuits wrong."  Apparently 'wrong' is relative, though, since there are as many variations on biscuit recipes as there are on, well, just about any other regional specialty.  The elders in my family have passed down several of these recipes that must be made a certain way; anyone who does not make them this way is automatically an idiot.
Or so they say.

Since the article's author insisted that Northerners can make good biscuits (am I a Northerner? a Westerner? a Californian, which seems to be its own category?), I decided to see for myself, though I had no intention of drowning perfectly good biscuits in fat-choked sausage gravy. My sweet tooth usually prevails anyway, so I figured maple syrup would drown them just as well as gravy, and I had a hankering for Boston baked beans, which I sort of associate with all things Southern and biscuit-like. I realize Boston is north of the Mason-Dixon Line, but what could be more stereotypically Southern than cooking beans in a vat of salt pork and molasses?

One thing's for sure: biscuits really are easy. I used regular old AP flour and regular old unsalted butter. I used my food processor to cut in nearly frozen butter (Oprah's very vocal fan must be horrified right now) and had dough ready in under 5 minutes. I let it rest for 30 minutes as directed, and got what I think are pretty proper biscuits out of the oven.

I have no idea what Oprah did wrong, but if hers tasted like mine, I bet she didn't care.

They baked up a little lopsided. I suspect uneven heat in the oven is to blame. Whatever. The flavor is fab.  

All-Purpose Biscuits
recipe lifted straight out of the New York Times magazine, 7.21.11
serves 6-8

2 C all-purpose flour (plus a little more for dusting)
2 TBSP baking powder
1 TBSP sugar
5 TBSP cold unsalted butter
1 C whole milk

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
2. Sift dry ingredients into a large mixing bowl. Transfer to bowl of food processor. Cut butter into smaller pieces and add to flour mixture, pulsing 5-6 times or until mixture resembles rough crumbs. (You could also cut butter into flour with a fork or pastry cutter.)
3. Return mixture to mixing bowl and add milk. Stir until it forms a rough ball.
4. Turn dough out onto a well-floured surface. Pat it down into a rough rectangle, about 1 inch thick. Fold over and gently pat it down again. Repeat once more. Cover dough loosely with a kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes. 
5. Gently pat out dough a bit more to form a rectangle that is approximately 10" x 6". Cut dough into biscuits with a biscuit cutter or floured glass. DO NOT twist cutter when cutting; this crimps the edges of the biscuit and impedes its rise. You can reform the remnants into another rectangle and cut out more, but know that these will be slightly less airy than the first batch. You can also bake the remnants as free-form biscuits with minimal handling (and therefore toughening). 
6. Bake on a cookie sheet until golden brown, approximately 10-15 minutes.
7. Drown in syrup, honey, or molasses.


  1. Biscuits sound delicious. I was really hoping more negative Oprah, though. Just saying...

  2. I think telling a Southern woman she doesn't know what the heck she's doing in the kitchen is a little bit negative. Especially when she talks such a good game about cookin' up this and fryin' up that.

    Oh, and Gian Who Knows Everything says that leaving an indentation with a finger in the biscuits just before they bake makes them rise evenly. Huh. Who'dve guessed?